Who lurks behind the battlements?

IN 1216 Framlingham Castle was besieged by bad King John. Nowadays the medieval walls are more likely to be invaded by tourists. Feature writer JAMES MARSTON meets some of the new people behind the battlements of one of our county's top attractions.

IN 1216 Framlingham Castle was besieged by bad King John. Nowadays the medieval walls are more likely to be invaded by tourists. Feature writer JAMES MARSTON meets some of the new people behind the battlements of one of our county's top attractions.

A FORTRESS and a home… for centuries Framlingham Castle has dominated the north Suffolk skyline.

Providing a silent backdrop to the lives of those nearby, the Castle is a constant in a changing world.

It was once a stronghold of one of Suffolk's most powerful families, at the very epicentre of political power.

Today knights in shining armour no longer practice jousting in its grounds. Archers have long since put down their bows and arrows. Princesses no longer muster their armies, and guards no longer man the battlements.

But modern visitors don't need to dodge boiling oil to get into Framlingham. Now the building, once designed to keep people out, welcomes visitors with open arms. From inside its massive walls, a new generation of castle guardians are securing the future of one of Suffolk's best loved landmarks.

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Gillian Johnston is among them.

For the last five weeks she has worked at Framingham Castle and she has already fallen in love with the place. Her job title - visitor operations team member - is a bit of a mouthful, but behind the fancy words she gets involved with everything that goes on at Framlingham Castle.

She said: “I used to live in the north of England and commute on a dirty old train into Manchester every day. Now I drive to work through Suffolk countryside. I can't believe it really. I love it here.”

Before landing the Framlingham job the 37-year-old history graduate worked as a legal secretary.

“Before that job I worked in advertising in London so I have gradually been getting out of the rat race. This is my dream job.

“I studied history and always wanted to do this sort of thing. It's finally happened for me.”

Delighted with her luck, Gillian is enthusiastic and proud about the place she is paid to show off. As we start the castle walk-a tour round the inside of the castle's 45 ft high curtain wall-Gillian is bursting with newly learnt information she wants to impart.

She said: “This is my first real tour. There's so much to learn. I keep finding out new things every day about the castle.”

Gillian starts by explaining the history of the castle. Built by the Bigod family in about 1189 during the reign of Henry II, the stone castle was built on the site of a motte and bailey castle-a style of building brought to Britain by the Norman conquerors.

Gillian said: “The Bigod family were the Earls of Norfolk, which really meant they controlled all of East Anglia. They were a very powerful family.

“Every now and again they fell out with Henry II as part of the medieval power struggles. The family had been granted lands here at the time of the Norman Conquest and Framlingham was built not far from Henry's castle at Orford almost as a rival to it.”

Built to establish and consolidate their powerbase, the archaeological evidence suggests Framlingham was already a Saxon settlement. Pointing out the various architectural clues to the layout of the castle's interior-long since demolished, Gillian describes where pivotal building like the great hall and chapel once stood.

She added: “The Bigod family incorporated some of the original castle buildings when they built the cxurtain wall. You can still see the fireplaces and windows and the floor level.

“It's not certain whether or not there was a keep here like the one at Orford. I think a lot of the archaeology has been swept away over the years. It would be great if Time Team came here and found out. There hasn't been a dig here since the 1980s.”

In Tudor times Framlingham Castle was at the centre of events once again.

Gillian said: “Mary Tudor was given the Castle by her brother Edward VI so this was one of her powerbases. In 1553 she was here when she was waiting to find out if she would be Queen when he died and it was here she mustered an estimated 13,000 troops to march on London to secure her place in the succession and remove Lady Jane Grey from power.”

After Mary's death Elizabeth restored the castle to the Howard family-the Dukes of Norfolk.

The Howards, on and off, held the castle for 400 years.

Gillian said: “The Howards put the brick Tudor chimneys on the castle to make it look more like a home and less like a fortification.

“They wanted to be seen as refined and they used the bailey, a section of ground to the east of the castle as a private garden. They wanted their home to be more comfortable.”

By the 1600s the Howards had had enough of Framlingham. They wanted a stately home rather than a castle and they sold it. The castle was bought by Sir Robert Hitcham in 1635. A year later Sir Robert was dead.

Gillian said: “In his will Sir Robert stipulated that the interior buildings were to be pulled down and a poor house set up inside the castle.

It was to the poorhouse that political journalist and broadcaster Jeremy Paxman came when he was researching his family tree-his ancestors had come to the castle to claim poor relief. The poorhouse closed in 1839.

On a clear day you can see the coast from the walls of Framlingham Castle and today it is one of Suffolk's most visited tourist attractions.

Gillian said: “Children love it here. There's lots to do for them. I think it is the old cliché of princes and princesses. They just love walking round the walls and playing in the moat. It is ca great family day out and it is a stimulating place for children.

“There's something here for everyone and it is a great place for families.”

The walls of Framlingham Castle are on average 2.3 metres thick.

ABOUT 65,000 people visit Framlingham Castle every year and it is the job of Diana Howard to make sure they all have a good time.

She said: “I came here in 1982 and I live in the cottage inside the castle. It's my job to open the doors each day, make sure everything is ready for the visitors, mind the shop and oversee the running of the castle.

“We want everyone that comes here to have a good time and come back. It's also my home.”

Diana, whose official job title is visitor operations site supervisor, is in charge of a team of about five staff.

She said: “We work as a team. I love it here. Living here in the summer is wonderful. Framlingham isn't far from the coast and it's a lovely day out for a family.”

In 1659, fire destroyed much of Southwold. 300 crates of rubble were taken from the castle to rebuild the town.

DEDICATED to local history, the Lanman museum is inside the castle's poorhouse.

Though small, the museum has exhibits on a number of aspects of life in Framlingham.

Terry Gilder, vice chairman of the museum's trustees, said: “In 1956 Harold Lanman exhibited his personal collection of about 700 artefacts in the town. That built the basis for the museum. We've been here in the poor house since 1984 and we get about 50,000 visitors a year.

“What we are showing is what life was like in Framlingham in the early 19th and 20th century.”

Visitors can look at the tools of the cobbler, the upholsterer, farming implements, police artefacts, and other aspects of life in the town, like church, home and the town's old cinema.

Mr Gilder said: “It gives a very good picture of what life was like here 100 years ago. We have copies of the Framlingham Weekly News which ran between 1859 and 1939, which is one of our treasures.”

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